Monday, November 06, 2017

Mother: An Encomium

One year ago today, my dear mother, the former Dorothy Ann Rosselot, entered into eternity. She was 84 years of age.

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Illustration from the story The Coming to Saint Martin, authored by Sister Monica, OSU, from "A Book of Fortitude" of the Faith and Freedom Series, Catholic University of America Press, Washington DC, 1947.

By the 1840s, soon after the Shawnees left for other pastures, the rolling hills and dales of the Ohio Valley were a settling ground, first for Irish Catholics, followed by their French and German neighbors. In 1845, a pair of Ursuline Sisters came by wagon from the motherhouse in Cincinnati, and settled at a junction soon known as "Saint Martin." They taught the faith to the children of those who farmed the land, and ran the shops in corner junctions and little hamlets, dotting the roads leading to and from "the big city."

Walter Rosselot was an enterprising young farmer with acreage in Brown County, a few miles south of a "wide spot in the road" known as Fayetteville. His wife, the former Gertrude Evans, gave birth to a baby girl in April of 1932, and who was christened Dorothy Ann.

The family of Walter and Gertrude (Evans) Rosselot, at the farmhouse south of Fayetteville, Brown County, Ohio, 1943. My mother, Dorothy Ann, is in the front row on the right, opposite her parents.

“Dottie” was one of eleven brothers and sisters, and in the 1930s and 1940s, everyone in the house carried their share of the load. The girls would do chores around the house, and when the boys were old enough (and they didn't wait long), they were out in the fields. For a time, most of the boys either weren't old enough, or were already married with farms and families of their own. This left Dorothy to help with "the man's work" -- presetting the controls on the harvester (the task of the "engineer"), driving the tractor, pitching hay, all before she was twelve.

The Rosselots were not poor. There was a roof over their heads, food on the table, and their father had good credit at the bank, enough to be equipped with combining and harvesting machinery, and offering his services to neighboring farms that didn't have such equipment of their own. But it didn't follow that there was much in the way of disposable income. Her sisters would all say the same thing in the wake of her passing: "She sewed a lot." Indeed. Except for dungarees worn in the field, Dorothy made many of her own clothes. Later in life, she made most of the dresses for my sisters, and the bridal dress for one of them.

Dorothy also made "knotted quilts" from little squares of leftover fabric, plain colors alternating with patterned. Each square were tied in the middle with a piece of yarn, to hold it to the inner layer (hence the term "knotted"). Unlike fancy patterned quilts that are today the stuff of boutiques, these were the more common variety on the farm and the prairie, where leftovers of anything would be put to use.

She was an excellent student, graduating as salutatorian in a class of seventeen in 1950, with special honors for mathematics. She was demure, reserved, unimpressed by the farm boys who asked her out on dates. Only one man was known to impress her, but the world would never know until after she graduated. Paul Alexander taught English and Latin at the school, and while a strict teacher, he had an easy rapport with one group of students in particular, including Dorothy. Several weeks after graduation, as she was preparing to get as far away from the farm as possible, Paul asked Dorothy out on a date.

Saint Patrick's Church, Fayetteville, Ohio, 14 June 1952.

Dorothy took a job sixty miles to the north, as a civilian clerk at Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton. Little is known of how the courtship of Dorothy and Paul was able to prevail given the distance, but two years after their first date, they were married in Fayetteville, at Saint Patrick's Church. There was little time for a honeymoon, as Paul's Air National Guard unit was called into active duty, and he was sent off to Germany to serve as payroll officer for his squadron. Dorothy moved into an apartment in Cincinnati with one of her sisters. Upon his return, Paul took a job with Procter and Gamble. Hoping for a position in Cincinnati, they were forced to relocate for an opening in Cleveland, in the hopes that they could one day return.

But before that return, Dorothy gave birth to her firstborn, early in the morning during Christmastide. At five weeks, he was christened David (for reasons unknown), with a middle name of Lawrence, for one of her brothers who died in a farming accident some years earlier.

Winnebago Drive, before the annexation by the Village of Milford, Ohio, June 1956. #29 is in the foreground.

With the company transferring Paul to Cincinnati, and with the birth of a second child, they knew that a two-bedroom apartment at the inner-ring suburbs of the city wouldn't be enough. They went east, outside the county line, to a village known as Milford, already expanding to meet the postwar demand for housing. A neighborhood of starter homes took its place where corn once grew, and where the Hopewells had once built ceremonial mounds for centuries before the "discovery" by Columbus. In a somewhat ironic memorial to that heritage, the streets of Clertoma Village were named for various tribes. And so a new life began with other young families, at a house on Winnebago Drive.

Three other children would join David, two of them in quick succession; a girl named Mary, a boy named Stephen, and after a break of several years, a little girl named Patricia. Together they all lived in a three-bedroom-one-bath house of less than 1200 square feet. When other families moved away for larger houses on the hill outside of town with split levels and one-acre lawns, the Alexanders bloomed where they stayed planted.

By all accounts, Dorothy might have been dismissed as "just a housewife," but there was more. She was an aficionado of the domestic arts, a herald of a bygone era at a time of modern conveniences and long stretches of leisure time. She not only cooked and cleaned and did laundry, but made dresses for the girls, patched jeans for the boys, canned beans and peaches, and grew a 400-square-foot vegetable garden in the back. She would wake up "with the chickens" by about five in the morning, have her coffee, her one cigarette for a day, and do her crossword puzzle from the newspaper. In the mid-1960s, Paul was elected to the Board of Public Affairs, a body of Ohio village governance separate from the Mayor and Village Council, responsible for the management of locally-operated public utilities, mainly water and sewer departments. Dorothy took a part-time job as a clerk in the village hall with the water department.

Rosselot cousins forming their signature “human pyramid,” Brown County, Ohio, Summer 1969.

The children enjoyed the occasional sojourn to the old farm, and the proverbial scenes so often associated with life in the American heartland. There were volleyball games in the yard, running in the fields, fishing at the pond, picnic dinners in the yard with fresh-picked corn and beans. The Rosselot clan grew to as many as fifty cousins, many of whom are still very close to this day.

April 1969. Clockwise from viewer's right; Stephen, Patricia, Mary, and the author.

Time went on, as time always does. The end of the 1960s saw changes to the popular culture, with a brood of children approaching adolescence in the face thereof. There was Scouting and Little League, school and swim club, the staples of diversion in small town life. It was at this time that the pressure of the office, and his own personal angst, was taking its toll on Paul. Physical maladies would present themselves, first one thing, then another, all inconclusive. When he was forty-five, in 1970, the doctors finally gave his difficulties a name -- multiple sclerosis. What was worse that that it was the variety that would never go into remission. All the Betaseron in the world would never ease the condition.

Dorothy could see the handwriting on the wall. With the growing up and moving away of the children, and with her husband's eventual retirement, she knew their "golden years" would never get easier, only harder; as the years went by, and age took its toll. After a period of silent resignation, she realized how thankful she was for what she still had, and stiffened her resolve.

It is one sign of a successful marriage when the husband and wife are able to renegotiate their "balance of power" (for want of a better term) when conditions warrant. Dorothy's father was not only a farmer, but an inventor. She used an inherited trait to her advantage. She became the home repair expert, the plumber, the electrician, the fixer-upper. When the washing machine broke down, getting a repairman would cost money. Why not get the part and fix it herself? As the years wore on, the children moved away, and life became just a little quieter in the house on Winnebago Drive, it became no less busy. Still awakening before dawn, only now without the cigarette, she'd drink her coffee and work her crossword puzzle in silence, before once again taking on the day. Even with the help of one or more of her children, there was no mistaking who was in charge of the care of her husband.

Paul and Dorothy, September 2003.

During the 1990s, Paul reached the official retirement age, having already been on disability for some years. They seemed reasonably content with their lives. Dorothy would occasionally play volleyball with other women of the neighborhood. It was her one diversion from what awaited her at home.

Then in December of 2001, Dorothy suffered a minor stroke. It was enough to herald the beginning of the end. Even as she continued care of Paul in the home, it became more difficult. A childhood injury to her ankle returned to haunt her, among other ailments common to advanced years. And yet she continued to rule the roost, accepting help, if reluctantly, but still calling the shots.

The little starter home had recently been significantly renovated, adding a larger master bedroom and wheelchair-accessible shower, and the dream kitchen and breakfast nook that Dorothy always wanted. Life seemed to improve for a while. But the newly-acquired luxury only eased the inevitable. Dorothy was having more trouble with the routine of care, even with assistance of her daughter and a home care aide. Keeping track of medications, overseeing activities of daily living, just the day-to-day routine of running a household, all became too much for her. But she would never give up the reins, such was her devotion to her husband.

29 Winnebago Drive, circa 2012.

Her siblings were becoming concerned. Maybe a facility would be the best thing for Paul, to say nothing of Dorothy. But she would have none of it. She knew what she signed up for, and refused to sugarcoat it. She would care for him in their own home.

Then in the fall of 2011, it happened.

Dorothy was taking the stairs to the basement, when somehow she lost her footing and stumbled all the way down. Landing on the concrete floor, she broke her neck. By all accounts, she should have met her end right then and there. But she refused even death, getting herself up while bleeding profusely from a gash on the head, and crawling up the stairs to dial 911.* Paul was the only other one there. As the other children rushed to the house to meet the ambulance and tend to Paul, they found a man sobbing, sitting helpless as he could do nothing to save her.

After coming out of intensive care, the children knew that whatever quality of life they might enjoy, depended entirely on having them together. Given the differences in their circumstances, this was no easy task. But such a place was found, a very pleasant retirement community, on the northheastern outskirts of the city, in a town called Sharonville. It was here that the family rallied to their father's side, and where, on a Monday evening the following February, Paul slipped peacefully away.

Dorothy (finally) gets over having pets in the house, thanks to “Buddy” the Dog, and “Carmen” the Cat. May 2012.

After the burial, Dorothy wondered what would happen to her. She received the news that an apartment in the opposite wing was already awaiting her. She entered her new home, with as many of the creature comforts that could fit from the house where she raised a family. It was met with tears of joy. She found a home away from home.

It was hoped that she would live a life of ease, resting from her labors, finding solace in her memories of home and marriage and family, while making new friends and discovering new recreations. For a time it seemed that it would be that way. But with a genetic precondition, compounded by her head injury the previous year, made for a respite that was short-lived. It was a year or so before her dementia advanced to the point where she could no longer live without constant supervision. After a brief period in the "memory care" ward, the situation demanded an alternative.

Cincinnati is home to the first and foremost care center devoted specifically to patients with Alzheimer's and dementia. Alois Alzheimer Center is located in the northwestern outskirts in the village of Greenhills. It was there that Dorothy spent her final months of life, with the best care that money (and a well-prepared trust fund) could buy. The firstborn was there to see her in October of last year. He found his own mother, a shadow of her former self, her mind nearly gone.

It was the saddest day of his life.

The end of that month was occasion for another rallying of the family. A call received in Washington told the firstborn that Dorothy had "hours, not days" to live. Within 36 hours he was there. Family members took turns keeping vigil. Sunday morning found Stephen keeping watch and praying the rosary, as Dorothy, laying peacefully, was summoned to her Final Journey. Her firstborn received the news by text message shortly before noon, while assisting at Mass. He left immediately to join the others. As their mother was carried away to be prepared for burial, the firstborn accompanied them, praying the 129th Psalm:

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine;
    From the depths, I have cried out to you, O Lord;

Domine, exaudi vocem meam. Fiant aures tuæ intendentes
    Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive

in vocem deprecationis meæ.
    to the voice of my supplication.

Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, Domine, quis sustinebit?
    If you, Lord, were to mark iniquities, who, O Lord, shall stand?

Quia apud te propitiatio est ...
    For with you is forgiveness ...

The following Saturday, she was laid to rest alongside her husband.

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I remember grilled cheese sandwiches and Campbell's tomato soup. There was praying before bedtime, with Mom leading the Litany of Loretto every night in May, and the Rosary every night in October.

Then we would sleep in beds covered by knotted quilts.

The author in uniform at the age of 4 1/2, Summer 1959.

I remember the sailor suits Mom made for us, the costume she made for me to play the part of John the Beloved for the Passion Play in the fourth grade. She sent me to the farm one summer, when I was six and a half, to count tax stamps from cigar boxes to redeem for funds for the missions. It was the most boring summer of my entire life, but a few years later, I too learned to drive a tractor before I was twelve. I remember her getting up with me before dawn to deliver the morning paper when I was ten. I only lasted a year and a half with that job. Without her it would have barely been a year.

When I entered art school in 1973, I needed a portfolio case to hold my drawing board, art pad, and tee-square. Buying one in the store was an expensive proposition. Having inherited her father's penchant for invention, she made one. Fashioning a balsa wood frame and pasteboard from an older project, she covered it with naugahyde, also used to create both the top and bottom-for-under-the-shoulder handles. She added brass hinges and clasps, and naugahyde slots to hold the tee-square. The result was so professionally done that several of my classmates wanted to pay her to make them one. But she wasn't interested in mass production. That case lasted through five years of school, and I still have it today, still in workable condition.

I inherited her genius for math, with a little help for good measure. While the "New Math" became popular in the early 1960s, Mom taught me a shortcut to the elaborate "long division" with what amounted to "short division." I used the latter for most of my life.

Mother and Caregiver, May 2015.

When one or another marriage in the family was on the rocks, Mom was the rock of stability for the children who could only watch the drama beyond their understanding. And when she left us, it was all eight of "Grandma's boys" who carried her to her place of rest.

Mom was a woman of many gifts. Sentimentality was not one of them. Even then she could surprise me. I graduated from college in August of 1978, and arrived at my aunt's house for the festivities. Mom greeted me with a hug and a kiss. That hadn't happened since ... probably since I was an infant.

I was the only one of the four to leave Cincinnati. She dreaded the very thought of it. I'd surely be helpless, incapable of wiping my own nose. But I managed, if sometimes more than others. She would get a phone call some nights from a young man who had imbibed entirely too much, channeling his inner Willie Nelson, singing his drunken man's lament:

Well I gotta get drunk and I sure do dread it
'Cause I know just what I'm gonna do
I'll start to spend my money callin' everybody honey
And wind up singin' the blues
I'll spend my whole paycheck on some old wreck
And brother I can name you a few
Well I gotta get drunk and I sure do dread it
'Cause I know just what I'm gonna do.

She thought I was nuts. She was probably right. Fortunately, things were eventually looking up. She noticed that in her final years, and seemed to miss me even more.

Most important, our mother taught us the redemptive value of suffering. You never know how much you need God, until you uncover the veil of delusion, and realize that all is not well. No one needed God more than our mother, and one might daresay that no one ever counted on him more. Cheating death (if only for a while), cheating the odds, she prevailed. Even the son who took the longest to be delivered in the beginning (as firstborns often are), knew that she would wait for him again at the end.

And so it was.

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Today, I sew my own patches and awards on my Scout uniform, almost as well as she would have, but better than the average soccer mom. I also hem my own pants, if only when I have to.

One night I arrived early at a party in Baltimore with the prospect of rain causing a delay. I was met by a hostess who conceded to not being ready, and whose new jeans needed hemming. I offered to do it for her while she went about other preparations. When the job was done, she was suitably impressed. That was the highlight of the evening. The rest of the party was a downer. (The only thing worse than a room full of drunks, is a room full of old drunks.)

In memory of Dorothy and Paul Alexander, an unnamed donor has furnished new hymnals for Saint Andrew Church, Milford, Ohio. The memorial bookplates are dated for what would have been their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary.

I didn't have the role of caregiver that the others did. Mary is a geriatric nurse, and accompanied Mom to most medical appointments. Stephen has been the administrator of our parents' affairs, including the disposition of our inheritance. Patricia recovered from a rare form of cancer, and passed on returning to a lucrative career, answering the call as Mom and Dad's primary caregiver.

As for me, I was Master of Ceremonies for both funerals. At least it was one thing I was good at.

We tend to see each other about once a year, usually when I'm in town. Our children join us. Sometimes even Paul flies into town, all the way from Seattle, and is reunited with his cousins, as though nothing ever changed.

But a lot has changed. They say that it's always harder when the mother leaves. They also say that when the last of the previous generation passes on, those who remain are one step closer to the grave. In the months that have followed, everyone's grief has passed, and we have moved on with our lives. Or at least it seems that way. I am not as sure of myself. Mom was what every good mother is meant to be, the glue that holds the family together. If tradition is any convention, a father may rule a house, but a mother makes it a home.

My only home now, is elsewhere.

But until that "great and terrible day," I'm going to the diner down the street for lunch. I believe I will have grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup. Hold the pickle.

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* She later claimed that angels carried her up the stairs. We can only take this on faith, as there was no one there to prove otherwise.

Monday, September 04, 2017

A Tale of Two Weddings

The wedding of my parents was a relatively simple affair.

My father's Air National Guard unit had been activated, and he was heading off to join the occupation forces in Germany. But about a week before he shipped out, he married Mom. When I was a boy, I would ask him where they went on their honeymoon. He said he was still on it. Only years later did I learn, that it too was rather scaled-down as well.

IMAGE: The wedding of Dorothy Rosselot to Paul Alexander, with their attendants, Margery Rosselot and Raymond Alexander, St Patrick Church, Fayetteville, Ohio, June 1952.

That was sixty-five years ago this past summer.

Closer to the present, it was just thirty-five years ago today, that I was treated to the most fun I have ever had at a wedding -- believe it or not, my own.

The day was picked out well in advance using The Old Farmer's Almanac, and we got the sunny and mild weather that was predicted. It was meticulously planned to the last detail, with invitations personally silk-screened by the groom, and addressed by hand in calligraphy. As it was a daytime wedding, the groom and his attendants wore morning coats. God forbid they appear in black tie before six in the evening. There were little more than a hundred people in attendance, making the little church just over half full. The choir from the parish in Georgetown where I sang was present, singing Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus and Duruflé's Ubi Caritas in Latin, as the Divine Liturgy was chanted throughout in English and Slavonic. We exchanged custom-designed rings, each bearing a simulation of the wreathed crowns that we wore as the Gospel was proclaimed.

IMAGE: A scene from the author's first marriage, Epiphany Byzantine Catholic Church, Annandale, Virginia, September 1982.

The reception was held at the old Evans Farm Inn in McLean, Virginia. (A luxury townhouse neighborhood now stands in its place, for reasons that defy all good sense.) Papa was a rough-edged steel mill foreman from Cleveland, who dropped out of school in the ninth grade when his father died, leaving him to support the family. By this time retired, he would accept nothing less than a show of his generosity. And so, the bridal couple's choice of chicken cordon bleu for dinner was abandoned in favor of prime rib, and the event is, to this day, the only wedding I have ever attended, with an open bar.

You read that right. Open, as in, all you can drink without falling down.

We had an old-fashioned square dance. Obviously the amplification did not blow the doors off the place, so people of all ages could relax and hear themselves think. Indeed, it was a central tenet of the couple's plans, that everyone of all ages and stations in life would feel comfortable at the event. Even the priest stayed for dinner. (They don't always, usually for reasons stated above.) As for the then-happy couple, they were last seen at ten o'clock in the evening, dancing with "Doc" Botzer on the piano, doing the Salty Dog Rag.

VIDEO: Dancing to Red Foley's 1952 hit song, "The Salty Dog Rag" has been a Dartmouth College tradition since 1972, where it is taught to freshman during orientation. Don't ask me why.

The total cost of the 1982 event was roughly four thousand dollars, an expense shared between the bride's parents, the groom's parents, and the couple themselves (with descending percentages of the share in that order). Using the consumer price index, this amount would translate in 2017 to just over ten thousand dollars. The average cost of a wedding in the United States is presently estimated at just over twenty-seven thousand dollars.

The bride's sister later said that the wedding was not only excruciatingly correct, but was one where everyone was made to feel at home. The marriage was a complete disaster, but the event that started it, in this writer's estimation, is a model for all the world to follow.

The marriage lasted just under ten years. After twenty-five years, if I tell a devout Catholic that I've been divorced all this time, they'll go "Awww" and tell me how sorry they are. I state here for the record that, first, she left me, and second, after a quarter of a century I'm not sorry anymore.

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It is the observation of this writer, generally speaking, that there are only six kinds of people for whom a Catholic wedding in this day and age, especially in North America, is suited in terms of feeling at home.

1) The bride and groom (we can only hope),

2) The bridal party, as the event revolves around them, if to a lesser degree than the couple,

3) The families of the bride and groom,

4) Single young men and women of marriageable age, as such events tend to inspire them to follow suit,

5) Other married couples, for whom this occasion is to welcome the newlyweds to their mutual state in life, and finally

6) Two or more women in a group, if only to talk about what everyone else is wearing.

IMAGE: The author plays his great-uncle's 1916 Stewart banjo with the band. Fiddler-pianist Dennis "Doc" Botzer is to his left. Opposite is the renowned dance caller Louis Shapiro.

Now that may appear to cover a lot, but you may notice the absence of two categories.

One of them is celibate clergy. Priests who officiate at weddings are often invited to the reception, but they usually leave as the party is getting started. Such events as these are not the most comfortable for those who choose the celibate life, and after some years of taking the cloth, they develop an aversion to very loud music, (I'm a musician by avocation, and even I don't get the idea of cranking up the volume.)

The other is divorced or unmarried people of middle age, especially men, especially when unaccompanied. The best dancer among them will be turned down, either by many a married woman for whom this is not her husband or close friend, or an unmarried and eligible woman who does not see her unborn children in his eyes. (See item 4.) Of course, it is ill-mannnered to presume to bring a guest who is not invited by the bridal couple. It is certainly not for relationships that are less than serious, and publicly so. The guest must receive a separate invitation, or the invitation may be addressed to the invitee "and Guest."

IMAGE: In an old Eastern European custom, the bride relinquishes her veil for the babushka, signifying her entry into womanhood. Note the bridesmaids' dresses (from Garfinkles), in a style which they would be most likely to wear again.

A few years ago, one of the best friends I ever made in this God-forsaken city after more than three decades, married a young woman who is just right for him. I had occasion to meet her and her mother for brunch after Mass. The groom has also met Sal, and we have both been to his house. Our association was no secret, and he had no cause for that association as a source of scandal. So when I received the invitation, I was taken aback that it was addressed to me alone. Now, Sal is a woman of a rather high degree of breeding, born and raised in the Philippines to be well-versed in old world Spanish manners. If she was insulted by the exclusion (and she was), then she had a reason.

Nevertheless, it was the prerogative of the happy couple to decide that which was in their interest, and one should take pains here to lay stress. Mine was to decline the invitation, send them a very nice gift, and wish for them nothing but the best. He and I are still friends, but it's not the same.

Harry Truman was right about this town. If I had a much bigger place, I'd get a dog.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Bourbon and Branches

We've seen the ads for and other similar products, allowing us to discover what we never knew about where our ancestors came from, and what makes each of us what we are today. (Some people are more surprised than others. You remember Kyle, don't you?)

In the years before the internet made the job much easier, my family had been rather thoroughly researched on both the Alexander and Rosselot (pronounced ROSS-uh-low) sides. This piece recounts them both, leading to at least one interesting discovery.

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In 1988, I, along with several generations on my mother's side, received a large spiral-bound book called "The Henry Rosselot Family History." It tells of Pierre Henri Rousselot his wife, the former Francoise Bermont, and their six children, migrating to America from Belfort, Alsace, France, in 1838. They arrived in Cincinnati, and in search of farmable land, went east into Clermont County, settling near the town of New Boston (now Owensville) in the surrounding township of Stonelick. Their descendants spread throughout the northern part of the county, and farther east into Brown County.

Saint Philomela Church, "the little church in the valley" established in 1839, and the parish of many of the Rosselot clan who settled there.

In January of 1900, Henri's great-grandson, Walter James Rosselot, was born in a log cabin just east of Newtonsville, Clermont County. Dropping out of high school shortly after his freshman year began (as the story goes that he found it lacking in intellectual stimulation), he continued his education on his own. His first date with Frances Gertrude Evans was in 1919, at a crossroads of Brown County known as Vera Cruz, at the little Holy Ghost Church. They married in 1923 at nearby Saint Patrick Church in Fayetteville, Ohio. In what may have been unusual twist those days, our high school dropout won the heart of a college graduate. "Gertie" had graduated from a two-year "normal school," or teacher's college, affiliated with Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and was teaching at a one-room schoolhouse near Vera Cruz. After renting in two other places, they eventually bought a farm in 1925 at the edge of a valley near the East Fork of the Little Miami River.

The Evans family originated from just north of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and were predominantly Methodists. Among those who migrated to Ohio, some converted to the Catholic Faith, others did not. Among the branches comprising the latter, settling in southern Clermont County, Ohio, was one born with the name Hiram Ulysses Grant. He was later and better known as Ulysses S Grant, the great Union general in the War Between the States, and later the 18th President of the United States. This was always a part of the Rosselot family folklore, and subsequent research in recent years confirmed it.

So, this writer is an indirect descendant of an American President, making every fifty-dollar bill in circulation a kind of family memento.

But ... that's not the interesting discovery. This gets better.

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The commune of Hannonville-sous-les-Côtes as it appears today.

In 1961, I was given a pamphlet entitled "The History of the Andre Alexandre Family." While the narrative is rather sparse, we learned that my great-great-grandfather came to Ohio around 1840, from France, a little town north of Verdun in the Lorraine province (the Meuse department in Grand Est in north-eastern France) known as Hannonville-sous-les-Côtes. He first went to Cleveland, and worked on the railroad, finally settling in Darke County, in west central Ohio, where many from his part of France, even the same town, had already settled. It was there, in a region known today as the “Land of the Cross-Tipped Churches” he met a young lady from his former hometown, one Marie Couchot. They married in a little church named for Saint Louis in North Star, Wabash Township, a few miles from the birthplace of Annie Oakley. From there, at least eight generations of progeny have grown to the present day.

Nearly twenty years ago, my cousin Angela Alexander served with the Air Force as part of the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. It was during her various occasions on leave that she journeyed to other parts of the continent, and eventually to the United Kingdom. It was there that she learned that the Alexandre line was descended from Scottish highlanders, more precisely Clan Donald of the Isle of Skye among Na h-Eileanan a-staigh ("the inner isles") along the western coast of Scotland. They fought with the Jacobite rebellion for restoration of the Scottish crown, and independence from England. When the cause was lost, many of those of Clan Donald had sufficient means to find exile in France, the result of their alliance with "Bonnie Prince Charles" and a mutual disdain for the English. Much of this part of our heritage was lost to the mists of time until the present.

Now we get to the really good part.

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One of Andre's sons, Albert, married Ann Katherine Grilliot (originally "Grillot," pronounced "GRILL-oh," before some idiot at Ellis Island inserted a typo), and they eventually bought a farm elsewhere in Wabash Township.

In my encomium to my father, written six years ago, there is related a bit of family folklore.

Leonard had been a teetotaler before getting into "the family business" operated by his mother, the former Ann Katherine Grilliot (Grillot), a feisty and formidable woman, who produced a byproduct of corn in the bathtub of their farmhouse, and had husband and sons on the payroll of her enterprise.

Annie Kate's mother was a woman named Marie Anne Aubry, a family that originated elsewhere in Meuse, in a town known as Herbeuville. It is from here, that our lineage can be traced back to King Louis XIV, also known as Louis the Great, also known as "The Sun King" who ruled France from 1643 until his death in 1715, as well as his grandson, Louis XVI, who reigned from 1774, until his overthrow in 1792 in the French Revolution, and his execution the following year. By extension, this links our family to the House of Bourbon, the rightful claimants to the French throne, currently in the person of one Prince Louis Alphonse of Bourbon, Duke of Bourbon and Anjou, who would assume the regnal name of Louis XX.

So, not only is this writer descended from a President, but also from royalty!

Of course, we'd probably just call him "Cousin Louie" if he shows up at reunions.

As if that were not enough, our lineage through the Aubry-Grillot line has been traced all the way back to Charlemagne (Charles the Great), born in 742, who ruled as King of the Franks from 768, King of the Lombards from 774, and Emperor of the Romans from 800, until his death in 814. Under his rule, much of Europe was united, enabling the rise of Christendom in the Middle Ages.

Further records have traced our lineage as far back as 600. Our ancestors held title to lands in the provinces of Burgundy, Brittany, and Normandy, all at one time separate realms, until brought together under a united France as the centuries came and went.

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So, what to make of all this?

When I was a little boy, and first heard I was descended from the French, it sounded glamorous, as some Americans might grow up imagining the French to be. I drew pictures of myself riding in a horse-drawn carriage, imagining that I was the lost Dauphin, awaiting the entourage that would rescue me from my dull existence, and return to me the crown and scepter that were rightfully mine. It was then that Grandpa Alexander told me the awful truth, that his own Grandpa and Grandma were poor. Andre was a wagon-wheel maker with a shop in North Star, who spoke very little English. His children, on the other hand, spoke very little French, having already acclimated themselves to the new world, and certainly having forgotten a long-buried heritage, only to be uncovered by a descendant more than a century later.

Paul David Alexander, posing with a fellow cast member, on the set of a remake of George Orwell's Animal Farm.

Then there was my son, Paul, to whom I first broke the news. Judging from his announcement in social media, he didn't take it in quite the way I expected.

Just found out I'm a descendant of the House of Bourbon on my dad's side, so I have to behead myself now.
I'm also descended from Jacobites on my dad's side. My forefathers gave zero f***s about my leftist cred.

It's tough to be a card-carrying socialist, only to discover that you're descended from the very flower of the bourgeoisie. Imagine no longer being invited to all the right (or should I say left) parties. I only hope he can move on with his life.

In recent years, I have managed to make the acquaintance of a number of aficionados from the arcane world of Catholic Monarchism. There are the usual congratulations, of course, and one of them telling me simply to "enjoy it." (Obviously I already am.) One of them told me of more than one account, of friends discovering they were descended from some figure of history. All this (and the potential invasion of privacy) is possible through the magic of DNA testing.

My siblings are finding out along with the rest of you, dear readers. They probably think I'm just showing off. Then again, I also wonder how my “Cousin Hiram” would react. Maybe this proves that we really are all descended from Adam and Eve, don't you think?

Or don't you?

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This writer extends the most heartfelt gratitude to his cousin, Angela Alexander, of Fairborn, Ohio, for her years spent in genealogical research. It is her tireless efforts that have contributed greatly to this account.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Assumption of Mary

There will be an important announcement here at man with black hat, coming exactly one week from today, on that which according to the traditional Roman calendar is the Feast of the Queenship of Mary. That day was chosen for reasons that will become clearer at that time. But until that time, we return this time to our regular (such as it is) programming ...

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Fly, my soul, with Mary fly,
Soar beyond the golden sky,
Mount to Mary's throne on high.

Bright the queenly crown she won,
Sweet the reign she has begun,
As she stands beside her Son.
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

How endure this long delay?
Living here how can I stay
From such beauty far away?
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

Sad my lot is here below;
Who can hope or life bestow?
Who will help or pity show?
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

But though far away from me,
Still our sovereign Queen will be
Full of love and clemency.
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

With a mother's loving care
She will lift those hands so fair,
And will save us by her prayer.
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

Mother's heart can ne'er forget
That we are her children yet,
By such dangers fierce beset.
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

Gently, still, she bends her eyes
On the soul that longs and sighs
For her love, the heavenly prize.
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

Blest the soul who, like the dove
Borne upon the wings of love,
Follows her to heaven above.
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

St Alphonsus de Liguori (1696-1787). Eugene Grimm, editor. The Glories of Mary. New York: Redemptoris Fathers, 1931.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The View From Charlottesville

Concerning the recent violence in Charlottesville, the home of Thomas Jefferson in the heart of the great Commonwealth that is Virginia, there are four lessons to be learned.

First, those in the so-called "alt-right" movement speak of defending their "European, American, and Christian heritage." Catholics, specifically traditional Catholics, must bear in mind that for most of American history, "Christian" was a euphemism for "Protestant." Until the 1960 election of John Kennedy as President, most Protestants, alt least in the South, did not consider Catholicism to be Christian. Most if not all of the neo-nazi and KKK types marching in Charlottesville despise Catholics every bit as much as they do Jews and persons of color. Those of the "alt right" would also be loathe to remember that the very flower of Western civilization, that of the rise of Christendom in Europe, was specifically Catholic is its origins.

In other words, while "American heritage" is inherently Protestant, what they proclaim as "European heritage" is inherently Catholic.

Second, the incident may have been sparked by an attempt to remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee, but in the end it had little to do with that, never mind that Lee himself would never have approved. The history of the War Between the States (more commonly and misleadingly known as "The Civil War"), and the tensions between North and South until that time, had to do with a lot more than slavery. If it did not, then explain why blacks fought on both sides of the war, and to this day, black men comprise part of the membership of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and proudly carry the Southern Cross in public.

PHOTO: A counter-demonstrator used a lighted spray can against a white nationalist demonstrator. (Steve Helber/Boston Globe)

Third, acts of violence were initiated by elements of both sides of the confrontation, but the mainstream media likes simple little bedtime stories of "good guys" and "bad guys," and the truth doesn't fit the narrative. And both sides, including the counter protesters, gave the purveyors of dirty laundry exactly what they wanted. Those who didn't want violence would have accomplished more by staying home.

"Both sides sprayed chemical irritants and hurled plastic bottles through the air."

And one poor woman was killed by a maniac.

Fourth, and finally, the cause of political and social conservatism, and whatever heritage it embodied, has been set back by years, thanks to a bunch of stupid jack@$$ rednecks with time on their hands, and no real idea of the ideals for which they claim to stand.

And so it goes.

Friday, June 23, 2017

In corde Jesu

Today, Catholics of the Western tradition celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart.

Outside of devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, there is none more popular or more identified with the traditional piety of Catholic life than this feast, occurring on Friday of the week following the Feast of Corpus Christi. It was on that earlier feast when a Novena to the Sacred Heart would begin, culminating in the Mass and Office of today.

“Christ’s open side and the mystery of blood and water were meditated upon, and the Church was beheld issuing from the side of Jesus, as Eve came forth from the side of Adam. It is in the eleventh and twelfth centuries that we find the first unmistakable indications of devotion to the Sacred Heart. Through the wound in the side, the wound Heart was gradually reached, and the wound in the Heart symbolized the wound of love.” (1917 Catholic Encyclopedia)

There were various monastic communities who took up the devotion, but the real tip of the biretta has always gone to St Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-90), a Visitation nun who had a vision. While praying before the Blessed Sacrament, she saw Our Lord with his heart beating openly, and the sight of it all sent her into a spell of ecstasy. “He disclosed to me the marvels of his Love and the inexplicable secrets of his Sacred Heart.” To say the least.

But perhaps the finest explanation of this vision can be found in an episode of The X-Files, a detective series that ran on The Fox Network for nine years, and to this day has a formidable cult following. It is from the series' sixth season, and is entitled "Milagro" (6X18), originally airing on April 18, 1999. It seems there were people being murdered by their hearts being removed by hand. FBI Special Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) visited a Catholic church, and coming across the image of the Sacred Heart, she runs into this unsavory fellow who explains the story behind the image to her. A piece of the dialogue, from the mysterious writer named Philip Padgett (John Hawkes), describes a vision:

I often come here to look at this painting. It’s called “My Divine Heart” after the miracle of Saint Margaret Mary. Do you know the story ... The revelation of the Sacred Heart? Christ came to Margaret Mary, his heart so inflamed with love that it was no longer able to contain its burning flames of charity. Margaret Mary ... so filled with divine love herself, asked the Lord to take her heart ... and so he did, placing it alongside his until it burned with the flames of his passion. Then he restored it to Margaret Mary, sealing her wound with the touch of his blessed hand.

His account portrays an almost sensuous quality to the Saint's reaction to this vision, in a way that one might rarely hear or read anywhere else. It is a sign that perhaps the influence of Christendom has not entirely faded from the popular culture, not to mention images created in tattoo parlors.

A common practice in many Catholic homes until the mid-20th century (including mine), was the "Enthronement of the Sacred Heart," in which the family placed the appropriate image of Christ on the wall, and together recited the necessary prayers, pledging the consecration of the family and the home to Him, in return for special graces. Fisheaters has a good explanation of the whole kit and caboodle, just in case it makes a comeback.

It could happen.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Novena: Pentecost

Da virtutis meritum,
da salutis exitum,
da perenne gaudium.
Amen. Alleluia.

Give them virtue's sure reward;
give them thy salvation, Lord;
give them joys that never end.
Amen. Alleluia.


Come, O Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of Thy faithful, And enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.

V: Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created,

R: And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

Oh God, Who didst instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Ghost, grant us in the same Spirit to be truly wise and to ever rejoice in His consolations, through Jesus Christ Our Lord.


(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which have appeared in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To view this entire series, click here.)

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Novena Day 9: The Fruits of the Holy Ghost

Da tuis fidelibus
in te confidentibus
sacrum septenarium.

On the faithful, who adore
and confess thee, evermore
in thy sevenfold gift descend.


The gifts of the Holy Ghost perfect the supernatural virtues by enabling us to practice them with greater docility to divine inspiration. As we grow in the knowledge and love of God under the direction of the Holy Ghost, our service becomes more sincere and generous, the practice of virtue more perfect. Such acts of virtue leave the heart filled with joy and consolation and are known as Fruits of the Holy Ghost. These fruits in turn render the practice of virtue more attractive and become a powerful incentive for still greater efforts in the service of God, to serve Whom is to reign.


Come, O Divine Spirit, fill my heart with Thy heavenly fruits, Thy charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, faith, mildness, and temperance, that I may never weary in the service of God, but by continued faithful submission to Thy inspiration, may merit to be united eternally with Thee in the love of the Father and the Son. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which have appeared in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)

Friday, June 02, 2017

Novena Day 8: The Gift of Wisdom

Flecte quod est rigidum,
fove quod est frigidum,
rege quod est devium.

Bend the stubborn heart and will;
melt the frozen, warm the chill;
guide the steps that go astray.


Embodying all the other gifts, as charity embraces all other virtues, Wisdom is the most perfect of the gifts. Of wisdom it is written “all good things came to me with her, and innumerable riches through her hands.” It is the gift of Wisdom that strengthens our faith, fortifies hope, perfects charity, and promotes the practice of virtue in the highest degree. Wisdom enlightens the mind to discern and relish things divine, in the appreciation of which earthly joys lose their savor, whilst the Cross of Christ yields a divine sweetness according to the words of the Savior: “Take up thy cross and follow Me, for My yoke is sweet, and My burden light.”


Come, O Spirit of Wisdom, and reveal to my soul the mysteries of heavenly things, their exceeding greatness, power and beauty. Teach me to love them above and beyond all passing joys and satisfactions of the earth. Help me to attain them and possess them for ever. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Novena Day 7: The Gift of Counsel

Lava quod est sordidum,
riga quod est aridum,
sana quod est saucium.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
on our dryness pour thy dew;
wash the stains of guilt away.


The gift of Counsel endows the soul with supernatural prudence, enabling it to judge promptly and rightly what must be done, especially in difficult circumstances. Counsel applies the principles furnished by Knowledge and Understanding to the innumerable concrete cases that confront us in the course of our daily duty as parents, teachers, public servants and Christian citizens. Counsel is supernatural common sense, a priceless treasure in the quest of salvation. “Above all these things, pray to the Most High, that He may direct thy way in truth.”


Come, O Spirit of Counsel, help and guide me in all my ways, that I may always do Thy holy will. Incline my heart to that which is good; turn it away from all that is evil, and direct me by the straight path of Thy commandments to that goal of eternal life for which I long. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Novena Day 6: The Gift of Understanding

Sine tuo numine
nihil est in homine,
nihil est innoxium.

Where thou art not, man hath naught,
nothing good in deed or thought,
nothing free from taint of ill.


Understanding, as a gift of the Holy Ghost, helps us to grasp the meaning of the truths of our holy religion. By faith we know them, but by Understanding we learn to appreciate and relish them. It enables us to penetrate the inner meaning of revealed truths and through them to be quickened to newness of life. Our faith ceases to be sterile and inactive, but inspires a mode of life that bears eloquent testimony to the faith that is in us; we begin to “walk worthy of God in all things pleasing, and increasing in the knowledge of God.”


Come, O Spirit of Understanding, and enlighten our minds, that we may know and believe all the mysteries of salvation; and may merit at last to see the eternal light in Thy light; and in the light of glory to have a clear vision of Thee and the Father and the Son. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Novena Day 5: The Gift of Knowledge

O lux beatissima,
reple cordis intima
tuorum fidelium.

O most blessed Light divine,
shine within these hearts of thine,
and our inmost being fill!


The gift of Knowledge enables the soul to evaluate created things at their true worth -- in relation to God. Knowledge unmasks the pretense of creatures, reveals their emptiness, and points out their only true purpose as instruments in the service of God. It shows us the loving care of God even in adversity, and directs us to glorify Him in every circumstance of life. Guided by its light, we put first things first, and prize the friendship of God beyond all else. “Knowledge is a fountain of life to him that possesseth it.”


Come, O Blessed Spirit of Knowledge, and grant that I may perceive the will of the Father; show me the nothingness of earthly things, that I may realize their vanity and use them only for Thy glory and my own salvation, looking ever beyond them to Thee, and Thy eternal rewards. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Novena Day 4: The Gift of Fortitude

In labore requies,
in aestu temperies,
in fletu solacium.

In our labor, rest most sweet;
grateful coolness in the heat;
solace in the midst of woe.


By the gift of Fortitude, the soul is strengthened against natural fear, and supported to the end in the performance of duty. Fortitude imparts to the will an impulse and energy which move it to undertake without hesitancy the most arduous tasks, to face dangers, to trample under foot human respect, and to endure without complaint the slow martyrdom of even lifelong tribulation. “He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved.”


Come, O Blessed Spirit of Fortitude, uphold my soul in times of trouble and adversity, sustain my efforts after holiness, strengthen my weakness, give me courage against all the assaults of my enemies, that I may never be overcome and separated from Thee, my God and greatest Good. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Novena Day 3: The Gift of Piety

Consolator optime,
dulcis hospes animae,
dulce refrigerium.

Thou, of comforters the best;
thou, the soul's most welcome guest;
sweet refreshment here below.


The gift of Piety begets in our hearts a filial affection for God as our most loving Father. It inspires us to love and respect for His sake persons and things consecrated to Him, as well as those who are vested with His authority, His Blessed Mother and the Saints, the Church and its visible Head, our parents and superiors, our country and its rulers. He who is filled with the gift of Piety finds the practice of his religion, not a burdensome duty, but a delightful service. Where there is love, there is no labor.


Come, O Blessed Spirit of Piety, possess my heart. Enkindle therein such a love for God, that I may find satisfaction only in His service, and for His sake lovingly submit to all legitimate authority. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Novena Day 2: The Gift of Fear

Veni pater pauperum,
veni dator munerum,
veni lumen cordium.

Come, thou Father of the poor!
Come, thou Source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine!


The gift of Fear fills us with a sovereign respect for God, and makes us dread nothing so much as to offend Him by Sin. It is a fear that arises, not from the thought of hell, but from sentiments of reverence and filial submission to our heavenly Father. It is the fear that is the beginning of wisdom, detaching us from worldly pleasures that could in any way separate us from God. “They that fear the Lord will prepare their hearts, and in His sight will sanctify their souls.”


Come, O blessed Spirit of Holy Fear, penetrate my inmost heart, that I may set Thee, my Lord and God, before my face forever; help me to shun all things that can offend Thee, and make me worthy to appear before the pure eyes of Thy Divine Majesty in heaven, where Thou livest and reignest in the unity of the ever Blessed Trinity, God world without end. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which appear in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Novena Day 1: The Holy Ghost

Veni Sancte Spiritus
et emitte caelitus
lucis tuae radium.

Come, thou Holy Spirit, come,
and from thy celestial home
shed a ray of light divine!


Only one thing is important -- eternal salvation. Only one thing, therefore, is to be feared -- sin. Sin is the result of ignorance, weakness, and indifference. The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Light, of Strength, and of Love. With His sevenfold gifts, He enlightens the mind, strengthens the will, and inflames the heart with love of God. To ensure our salvation, we ought to invoke the Divine Spirit daily, for “The Spirit helpeth our infirmity. We know not what we should pray for as we ought. But the Spirit Himself asketh for us.”


Almighty and eternal God, Who hast vouchsafed to regenerate us by water and the Holy Ghost, and hast given us forgiveness of all our sins, vouchsafe to send forth from heaven upon us Thy sevenfold Spirit, the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding, the Spirit of Counsel and Fortitude, the Spirit of Knowledge and Piety, and fill us with the Spirit of Holy Fear. Amen.

Our Father ... Hail Mary ... Glory Be ...

(Our thanks to Soulpacifica for the lovely images personifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are to appear in this series with her appreciation, for which this writer is grateful. To see the novena as completed to the present, click here.)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Novena: Prelude

Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who is to be taken up from you into heaven had to re-schedule his departure to the following Sunday in order to accomodate the busy schedules of the faithful. Now, get back to work.

(Acts 1:11, dynamic equivalent translation)

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Ascension, when Christ ascended into Heaven forty days after He rose from the dead.

Then again ...

In most provinces of the USA, and in entire countries throughout the world, the Feast has been moved to the following Sunday. We could just leave well enough alone, and transfer the obligation itself to the Sunday within the octave of the Feast, but the Western church got rid of many of its octaves in the mid-1950s, and a few more since then. You'd have to explain to people what an octave is, and that is such a pain. So unless you attend the Traditional Mass or an Eastern Rite Divine Liturgy today, in which case the aforementioned silliness does not apply, today will be remembered as just another Easter weekday.

If only they put the right spin on it, in which case it would go something like this:

“Most biblical scholars agree that Jesus ascended into Heaven forty-three days after He rose from the dead, not forty days as previously believed. The number of forty was arrived at by the end of the third century, to make it easier for Christians to count the days after Easter on their fingers and toes and double the total. But we’re so much more sophisticated now, and we can use calculators to count that high, or have our smartphones remind us.”

Whether or not we would fall for that, moving a Feast Day to a Sunday because we're all too damned lazy to go to Mass on a weekday (or a weeknight) makes about as much sense.

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But suppose that sacred time actually mattered, in which case it would go something like this:

The Church was born on the Jewish feast of the Pentecost. After the ascension of Christ into heaven, a group which, according to tradition, numbered about 120, remained sequestered in the Upper Room for nine days, awaiting the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

They returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away; and when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (Acts 1:12-14)

Thus the birth of our Holy Mother the Church was preceded by a novena.

From the Latin word "novem," meaning "nine," a novena is a prayer that is repeated for nine days, after which, according to pious belief, special graces are obtained. Fisheaters elaborates on the devotion, and gives a complete listing of popular novenas for any and all occasions.

The novena to Saint Jude may be the most popular, as he is the patron saint of hopeless causes. Many a Catholic has found a holy card or slip of paper in the pew with the prayer written on it, left by a pious soul whose intention was granted. One of them was the late entertainer Danny Thomas, whose devotion to the saint moved him to establish the children's hospital that bears the saint's name.

We here at man with black hat will present our exclusive adaptation of the mother of all novenas, that which is devoted to the Holy Spirit, over the next nine days. Stay tuned...

Sunday, May 14, 2017


When all is said and done, there are as many tributes on Mother's Day as there are mothers worthy of the name. But if grit were considered a theological virtue, we might possibly be more assured of Mom's place in eternity. Unknown to a world that assumed all was well in hand with our family, she was the lynchpin that held it together, "for better or for worse."

(Under construction ...)

Monday, May 01, 2017

Sumer Is Icumen In

Well, folks, it’s that time again. The April showers give way to the May flowers. Thus we have “May Day.” Makes sense, right?

“Sumer Is Icumen In” was written by an anonymous English composer, probably around the mid-13th century, as a round in six parts. This can be really confusing, as seen in what is possibly the most amusing example our Research Department could find, a group of hearty and cocksure lads busking on the streets of ... somewhere in the UK, and with only four parts.

Maybe the lyrics would help.

Summer is a-coming in,
Loudly sing, Cuckoo!
The seed grows and the meadow blooms
And the wood springs anew,
Sing, Cuckoo!
The ewe bleats after the lamb
The cow lows after the calf.
The bullock stirs, the buck-goat turns,
Merrily sing, Cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo, well you sing, cuckoo;
Don't you ever stop now,
Sing cuckoo now. Sing, Cuckoo.
Sing Cuckoo. Sing cuckoo now!

Doesn’t do it for ya, does it? Maybe if we went totally authentic and used Middle English...

Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
And springþ þe wde nu,
Sing cuccu!
Awe bleteþ after lomb,
Lhouþ after calue cu.
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ,
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu, wel singes þu cuccu;
Ne swik þu nauer nu.
Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!

Nah, still ain’t happening? Well, why not take it to the next level, starting from scratch?

“The Safety Dance” was the biggest hit single by that wacky 1980s pop group known as “Men Without Hats” (which has a similar ring to the title of this weblog, so now know you where we got the idea.). It was written by lead singer Ivan Doroschuk, who does his own stunts for this video, as you can see. It was released in the States in 1982, and in the UK in 1983. Don’t ask me why. Anyway, it hit number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on Cash Box, as well as number one on the Billboard Dance Chart. In the UK it reached number six. It was the only major international hit for the group.

The video was filmed in West Kington, near Bath, in southwest England. Ivan is the only band member who is obvious; the others appear somewhere in the town square. This is the perfect video for May Day. It has everything: mandolins, masks, Maypoles, merriment, Morris dancers (the Chippenham Town Morris from Wiltshire, to be exact), mullet heads, musicians -- and of course, midgets! (I know, I know, he‘s a dwarf, not a midget, but that doesn’t begin with an “m” now, does it?)

And with that, everybody look at your hands!